Better ways to manage trash at your restaurant

Better ways to manage trash at your restaurant

Foster Frable is an NRN contributor and a founding partner of Clevenger Frable LaVallee Inc. in White Plains, N.Y. He has designed more than 400 foodservice projects, including restaurants and operations in hotels, colleges and more. He can be reached at [email protected]

Clevenger Frable LaVallee Inc. founding partner Foster Frable

How many times have you bought a cup of coffee and gone to a nearby counter for condiments, then wondered what to do with the empty creamer and/or sweetener packets in your hand?

Have you ever wanted to make room for some cream in your coffee cup, but there is no place to dump the excess liquid?

Have you ever finished a meal in a busy quick-service restaurant and walked to the throw-away area, only to find the trash receptacle overflowing?

Can you picture sitting at a bar with plastic trash containers filled with empty bottles for everyone to see? Or looked down the aisle of an open display kitchen and overflowing trashcans are corrupting your appetite?

There are good solutions for each of these problems, but they are rarely used in most operations because how to manage trash is not viewed as a strategic opportunity. In order to be ahead of the curve when it comes to trash management, here are some options:

For the bar:

a) Every major under-bar equipment manufacturer offers an option for a built-in trashcan that is integrated into the stainless under-bar lineup.  

b) Compact glass crushers that insulate sound can be built into an under-bar or located in the waiter pickup area.

For the condiment counter:

a) The trashcan should be an integral part of the condiment station, with a grommet or scrap ring to protect the hole in the counter top. Doug Mockett offers an endless assortment of trash-hole lids and grommets used by many of the large chains. They also offer sliding shelves for the base cabinet, making it easy to slide out a full trashcan.  

b) Reduce the amount of trash, while going green, by using bulk condiment systems. Provide individual condiment packets (PCs) at the counter for request only.

c) Avoid having customers dump liquids into the trashcan by adding a small drain trough or dump sink at the condiment counter. Ideally this should be piped into a drain, but a large bucket or a second trashcan with handles would also work.

Excellent examples of integrated trash-holding equipment can be found in the modular counters at many larger convenience-store chains. You can see some creative solutions designed specifically for chains like Wawa and 7-11, but any operator can use the designs.  

For the dining room:

a) Consider using trash compactors to replace the standard flip-front laminated trash containers. Available in indoor and outdoor models, these units can reduce trash volume by a factor of eight to one, meaning you have one compacted trash bag instead of eight regular bags to put in your trash bin or on the sidewalk. Trash-bin size compactors have been on the market for at least 20 years (including ones with synthesized voices to guide the user), but they have had a number of design improvements over the past few years. Some have automatic alerts and can text the manager when they are full. In addition, many customers have had the experience of using the solar compactors that are in the streets and parks of several urban centers including Boston, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

b) Consider providing more non-breakable, reusable dishware for your dine-in guests. Sandwiches and sides served on melamine platters or skillets with built-in handles for easy movement from counter to table are good options.  

c) Install a small dump sink or drainer next to the trashcan so customers can pour out unfinished beverages. This prevents liquids leaking out of the bag during transport and reduces the weight of the trash.

d) Trashcans in restrooms need to accommodate accumulated waste during busy periods. Restroom trash overflow is a turnoff and makes customers wonder if the kitchen is run in a similar manner. Hand dryers significantly reduce the amount of paper waste, but accessible and attractive trash receptacles are still required.

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For the open or display kitchen:

a) Build trashcans into stainless steel counters and equipment as part of the initial design.   

b) Open space is limited in most kitchens, so use the space below shallow sinks and dipper wells for smaller trash containers. Access the trash with a tilt-out bin (hinged on the bottom), a flipper door in the front face of the table or counter, or a chute in the top of the counter in the front or side of the sink.  

c) Hardware specialty companies (Rev-A-Shelf and Häfele, for example) offer a range of trash container holders that roll out of a cabinet base and can hold separate trash cans for food recycle and general waste. They can be installed in millwork or stainless cabinets.

d) Garbage disposals near pot sinks, warewash and food prep areas in municipalities (where they are permitted) have traditionally been a way of eliminating food waste by literally washing it down the drain. The noise of disposals in open kitchens, along with code restrictions in some areas, makes them impractical.

How do you manage trash at your restaurant? Join the conversation in the comments below.

If removing waste is the primary objective, consider installing one of the new compact food digester systems. These systems use enzymes to liquefy solid food waste that can then be flushed down the drain. Several of the latest models of these units can be installed inside kitchens, sometimes right in the work areas where the food waste is generated. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York has this system installed at the end of their cooking line in a primary kitchen.

Emerging regulatory requirements requiring separation of compostable food waste add yet another class of refuse that needs to be accommodated in the kitchen work areas either for collection or in-house composting. Two bins or containers at each trash area are required: one for composted waste and the other for paper, metal, bones, etc.  Holding food waste for composting can be challenging if composted waste isn’t picked up daily. A typical solution is to provide a refrigerated garbage room, but that consumes space and energy. A less costly solution is to install a two-door reach-in trash cooler, similar to a beer keg cooler, that is high enough to roll in two large trash containers. Infinity Stainless Products offers such a unit with hinged doors on the top that allow a quick dump of a pail of food waste without opening any doors.

The best solution to handling trash in the front of the house is to find ways to minimize it as it comes through the back door. Buy bulk sizes, particularly anything liquid, and remove any packaging or trimmings at the back door, not when the product gets to the cooking or service areas. Using bulk condiment dispensers and pumps instead of bottle or packets, and draft beer and keg wine versus bottles, can make a big reduction in trash in the front-of-house areas.  

These trash solutions are just a few of the many options available. What’s really important is having awareness of big-picture trash management: keeping trash out of sight and reducing the labor to get rid of it requires planning. If handling trash is an afterthought rather than an integral component of an overall design, the opportunity to present a clean, efficient and relaxing image to customers is lost.